When a campaign of professionally produced homophobic posters appeared in Whitechapel, the LGBT community were right to be angry. The posters showed a rainbow flag crossed out by a black diagonal with the slogan “gay free zone” and a couple of Qur’anic quotes:
“Arise and warn [EMQ 74:2]”
“And Fear Allah. Verily Allah is severe in punishment [EMQ 59:7]“
Johann Hari has written a piece calling for zero-tolerance on the question of Muslim homophobia. Thankfully, he has voiced his opinion without paying deference to the thinking which demands acceptance of the notion that Muslims ought to be allowed to practice homophobia because that happens to be one of their religious norms. So kudos to Johann for avoiding that particular kind of racism which cannot be said of so many of the liberal Left:
No, Muslims are not the only homophobes among us. But the gap between them and the rest is startling. It’s zero percent of British Muslims vs. 58 percent of other Brits who say we are “acceptable.”
Why does nobody want to talk about this? No, it’s not because Muslims have “taken over” Europe, as ludicrous hysterics like Mark Steyn claim. I debunk that nonsense here: Muslims are 3 percent of the population of Europe.
So why the silence? It is true that British Muslims are themselves frequently the victims of bigotry. They are often harassed by the police, denied jobs, and abused in the street, and they are forced to watch as our government senselessly incinerates many Muslims abroad. (I have written many articles detailing and deploring these ugly facts.) So gay people are naturally reluctant to pile in onto minority who are being oppressed. We are rightly sympathetic. We know what it is like to be treated like this. We instinctively respond with solidarity, not suspicion.
But this can easily morph into excuse-making. When there was a wave of vicious gay-bashings in Amsterdam by Morroccan immigrants – ending the city’s easy, hand-holding culture – the gay spokesman for Human Rights Watch, Scott Long, said: “There’s still an extraordinary degree of racism in Dutch society. Gays often becomes victims of this when immigrants retaliate for the inequities they have had to suffer.” What? How is it a “retaliation” to beat up a gay couple? What have they done to Muslims? What other human rights abuse would Human Rights Watch make excuses for? Would they say the Burmese junta beats dissidents in order to “retaliate for the inequities they have had to suffer”?
When gay people were cruelly oppressed in Britain, we didn’t form gangs to beat up other minorities. We organized democratically and appealed to our fellow citizens’ sense of decency. It’s patronizing – and authentically racist – to treat Muslims as if they are children, or animals, who can only react to their oppression by jeering at or attacking people who have done them no harm, and who they object to because of a book written in the sixth century. Muslims are human beings who can choose not to this. The vast majority, of course, do not attack anyone. But they should go further. They should choose instead to see us as equal human beings, who live and love just like them, and do not deserve scorn and prejudice.
Yes, it is “Muslim culture” today to be bigoted against gay people. It was British culture to be anti-gay thirty years ago. Cultures change. They change all the time. They are not sacred and fixed. They are constantly in motion. But they only change if we admit there is a problem publicly and openly and search for solutions. We should not “respect” the bigotry of Muslims, any more than we would respect the bigotry of Christians or Jews or the Ku Klux Klan. The only consistent and reasonable position is to oppose bigotry against Muslims, and oppose bigotry by Muslims.
Johann is right to draw attention to Muslim attitudes to homophobia (ones that are backed up by Qur’anic quotes) but he didn’t draw out a crucial component of institutional homophobia which is practiced in Muslim communities, particularly in Tower Hamlets, and particularly by the East London Mosque.
East London Mosque director Dilowar Khan was quick to attack the Gay-free zone campaign in an statement issued in a Tower Hamlets council press release:
“We stand together with our fellow citizens against all forms of hatred, including homophobia. We are committed to building strong and cohesive communities in Tower Hamlets, and our strength is that we will not let incidents of hate divide us.”
But words are cheap when it comes to the East London Mosque because the reality is that the ELM and the London Muslim Centre have hosted the following homophobic Islamic preachers on their premises in the last few years:
- Abdul Karim Hattin
- Khalid Yasin
- Abdullah Hakim Quick
- Bilal Philips
- Abu Usamah at Thahabi
- Yasir Qadhi
- Mohammed Alshareef
- Murtaza Khan
Both the East London Mosque and the London Muslim Centre have recently issued publish statements claiming to be anti-extremist and the pains they’ve taken to improve their vetting process. They have admitted to hosting hate preachers in the past but relinquished any responsibility altogether by claiming that these men were the guests of third party groups. More of the usual lies and untruths coming from the Mosque authorities because as the table of Friday khutbahs shows, four of the above homophobic hate preachers, namely Muhammad Alshareef, Yasir Qadhi, Abdullah Hakim Quick and Bilal Philip have all stood as Imam and delivered the Friday sermon at the mosque!
The question on whether homophobia practiced in the Bengali community in Tower Hamlets is a factor of religious or cultural attitudes amongst Bengalis could be the premise of an anthropology PhD or a lively debate or two on the Big Question. But it is irrelevant to the bigger question on whether it is right to turn a blind eye to the institutional homophobia that is allowed to be practiced and desiminated by the East London Mosque and the London Muslim Centre.
If the East London Mosque really were opposed to homophobia, as it says it is, where is the formal statement condemning the hate preachers, by name? What has it done to stop any of this collective of hate preachers from attending the mosque again? These are not unreasonable questions to ask a community institution which has, over the last five years, received public grants totalling £196,000 for “community cohesion” work and a further £28,500 for “preventing violent extremism”.